Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mentoring, As Applied to Preparation for Careers in Higher Education

The topic of mentoring has received a great deal of attention within the world of PK-12 education. In its best format, mentoring programs identify well-seasoned mentors who can provide encouragement and technical assistance to newer teachers or other educational professionals, meeting their protégés’ ongoing needs and, perhaps, indirectly improving student outcomes. In the meantime, mentors themselves benefit, through experiencing a sense of rejuvenation and/or profiting from stimulating exchanges of new ideas. Now, how about mentoring for educators who are pursuing careers in academia? It appears that substantially less consideration has been aimed toward mentoring for aspiring higher education faculty. In this post, I explain why this is concerning and suggest a couple of possible causes and remedies.
                  I am truly fortunate to have received terrific mentorship for the professoriate, especially since I made a move to an on-campus Ph.D. program here at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The mentorship has spanned a variety of areas, including active scholarship, writing, miscellaneous socialization experiences and—most recently—inestimable supports related to my pursuit of a university faculty position. However, I am keenly aware that my positive experience is most certainly not the norm for graduate and professional students. For instance, 96% of medical students expressed a belief that mentoring is indispensable for their personal and career development, but only 36% reported having been assigned a mentor (Aagaard & Hauer, 2003). Also, Johnson (2002) estimated that only between one half to two thirds of graduate students received faculty mentoring. These figures highlight a problem, first, because the professoriate is notoriously arduous. Those who aspire to it, therefore, should be prepared for the challenges they will soon face. In applied fields such as education, the long-term costs of inadequately prepared professors may be especially noteworthy. For instance, take my chosen field of educational leadership and policy, which is focused on the preparation of aspiring educational leaders. According to LaMagdeleine, Maxcy, Pounder, and Reed (2010), “the strength of leader preparation programs is, in large measure, dependent on the quantity and quality of faculty attracted to and retained in the professoriate” (p. 140). Thus, mentoring of future faculty ultimately has important implications for program quality.
                  Why isn’t strong mentoring for aspiring faculty standard practice, and what can be done to improve the situation? I believe a major source of the problem stems from faculty incentive and reward structures adopted by many universities, which emphasize certain activities (e.g., research, teaching, and service) over and above engagement in mentoring of students. Related, perhaps an individual and collective pause and gut check is needed: We should reconsider what higher education is all about and consider our places within it. Here in U.S. higher education institutions, Jacob (1997) describes mentoring as the “forgotten fourth leg in the academic stool” (p. 486). The classic European university system, by contrast, places mentoring squarely at the center of its tutorial approach (Scott, 1992). In the meantime, scholars should pursue the topic of mentoring in higher education with renewed conviction, describing the terrain and identifying effective, mutually beneficial models that fully prepare students for careers in academe.
                  Do you have stories to share about mentoring, from the perspective of the mentor, the protégé, or the detached observer? I’d love to hear from you.

Joel Malin is a Ph.D. student in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership. His research interests include: educational policy analysis; expert opinion and decision-making; school funding equity; and assessment. He is currently the Director ofPersonnel Services and Director of World Languages at Lake Forest School District 67.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.

Aagaard, E. M., & Hauer, K. E. (2003). A cross-sectional descriptive study of mentoring relationships formed by medical students. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 18, 298-302.
Jacob, H. S. (1997). Mentoring: The forgotten fourth leg of the academic stool. Journal of Laboratory Clinical Medicine, 129(5), 486.
Johnson, W. B. (2002). The intentional mentor: Strategies and guidelines for the practice of mentoring. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33(1), 88–96. doi:10.1037//0735-7028.33.1.88
LaMagdeleine, D., Maxcy, B. D., Pounder, D. G, & Reed, C. J. (2009). The context of university-based educational leadership preparation. In M. D. Young, G. M. Crow, J. Murphy, & R. T. Ogawa (Eds.), Handbook of research on the education of school leaders (pp. 129-156). New York, NY: Routledge, Taylor and Francis.
Scott, M. E. (1992). Designing effective mentoring programs: Historical perspectives and current issues. Journal of Humanistic Education and Development, 30, 167-177.

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